La vie en CERN: A day

It’s raining outside and it won’t give me a break.  I thought I had one, briefly, so I hopped on the bike and tried to book it to CERN, whilst having made the unfortunate decision to wear normal clothes on the ride. Five minutes later the rain has burst again, and I’m nearly instantaneously drenched. So much so that turning back would make little sense.

I make it to CERN wet and muddy though unharmed, and beeline to the bathroom in the main building right past the lecture I’m already late for. the Bathroom seems by comparison, immaculately clean and the straighthaired, perfect makeup girl who has been standing in front of the mirror for the last several minutes blowing and reblowing her conceivably now empty nose on a neatly folded piece of tissue is staring at me. As if she’s never seen a girl drying her pants off in a turbo Swiss hand dryer before.


Hanging around with team Danmark is fun/funny: One of my colleagues is Danish and when we go eat dinner every single Danish summer student (read: three of them) seems to flock to us.  You know you’re around Scandinavians when there are stupid jokes flying around and liver paste is being smeared liberally on pieces of Rye bread, the nourishment of choice even amidst all this Fine Frenchiness. It’s out that I know Swedish and I’m quickly informed, for some reason, that there’s a law in Denmark, a relic of more glorious times, stating that if öresund (or as they would insist, øresund) freezes over and the Swedes begin to walk across, all Danish men of reasonable age and of the ability to wield a weapon are legally obligated to beat them with clubs.

“Southern Sweden, that should be part of Denmark, you know,” one of the Danes says, slyly. On the inside I get the shrinking feeling that she’s sort of right. But concession is defeat, and hence I reply: “No. It should be Skåne!”


Bringing the apparatus back to life after two weeks of Stick induced slumber is no easy task. Not to claim that I was so deeply involved in the entire process, but running the first couple of sequences to check for life in the MCP and the electron gun throws me into several minutes of utter terror. If the experiment blows up at this point it would, indeed, be entirely my fault. I was the one responsible for installing the high voltage connections. One mistake, and we’d be several thousand dollars and a few weeks in the hole.

A few minutes later, I’m standing again on the platform over the experiment, remeasuring, just to be certain, the resistance between two of the high voltage connections on the top of the Stick. the resistances are what I expect, and so I cathartically ball up some of the ice from the top of the cryostat in my hands and chuck it at the control room window.

(As it turns out, I didn’t blow up the experiment. turns out the problem was with an old, burned out amplifier… see below)


I’m crouched on the floor, in a position some would use for prayer, behind a massive rack of electronics, sticking my hands into a darkened mess of plugs and cables. After five minutes of desperately trying to disconnect an unbelievably tight bnc cable from the back of one of the aging pieces of electronics known as the Aarhus amps, I’m just about at my wit’s end and my fingers are going numb (those of them that actually had feeling to begin with, anyway). I’m about three seconds away from shamefully asking a boy for help, when at last I get it loose.

“Why am I so weak?” I ask, in what was supposed to be a rhetorical question.

“You should eat black beans,” is the unsolicited response from across the rack.

Duly noted, duly noted.



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